At this point in time, there's no question that the corporate reign is upon us. Our politicians are beholden to their corporate backers, and everything we touch—from the gloves on our fingers to the chicken (or chicken-free) fingers we inhale at lunch—have deep roots tied to industry and the multinational corporations at the center of it all. But what if a magic spell—a death curse, specifically—could change all that?
Artist Steven Leyba has taken to putting a magic spell of sorts on Monsanto and other corporations at the forefront of human health and environmental destruction. And as unbelievable as it may sound, it may just be working.
The “any means necessary” ethos has become quite literal, especially for Leyba. Between 2010-2011, Leyba produced his 13th handmade book—his medium of choice. This one was focused specifically on Monsanto, the chemical-turned-engineered-foods poster corporation for everything wrong with the food system.
The massive food industry has become anathema for many, with locally grown and produced goods becoming the ultimate rebellious #Occupy-esque move in resisting corporate control over our food system. In 2012, the year after Leyba completed his book, sales of locally produced foods and goods topped $6.1 billion. And demand continues to rise--not just for local and organic foods, but for GMO-free and antibiotic-free foods, as well as foods free from artificial ingredients.
Like millions of Americans struggling with diet-related illnesses, Leyba tried to get healthier by changing his diet. “In 2010 I had been overweight and decided to get healthy. I started eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables from my local grocery store. I got sick and that was the time I found out about GMOs,” Leyba told Organic Authority in an email. “I was appalled. I couldn't understand why I would get so sick by eating what I thought was so healthy. When I switched to organic food I got healthy again.”
Leyba said his motivation was deeply personal, but “also universal.”
“I had to make art about this,” he explains, "and in the process I learned how insidious the Monsanto corporation was.”
Leyba’s Monsanto book itself is thick and demented in appearance, like something you might find in an archeological discovery—perhaps an old alchemist’s or shaman’s handiwork. It’s constructed with canvas pages that he added grommets to, “I bolted the pages together and painted acrylic then sewed beads into the pages and collaged information about GMOs, anti-Monsanto pamphlets, and some of my writing against Monsanto,” he explains.
Most of the paintings were of Monsanto executives he says, including the company’s CEO Hugh Grant, as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (who worked for Monsanto for years). But it’s not exactly coffee table book material: “Their [sic] is pubic hair all over his 2 portraits,” Leyba explains. “I had the idea that in the future Monsanto would make it so everyone could grow their favorite foods on their faces: ‘You are what you eat, you eat what you are; MONSANTO,’” he explains.
But Leyba didn’t stop with his multimedia protest. A student of numerous art mediums, the occult, and Native traditions, Leyba publicly put a death curse on Monsanto and Nestlé, citing their for-profit eco-terrorism as his motivation. “Death curses work like any manifestation of will like Gestalt psychology; you visualize and act in accordance and at some point what you can conceive and believe you can achieve,” he explains.
“Medicine men practice this and even medical doctors to some extent practice this. They plant suggestions in people's minds for healing and those people start to do things that promote their own healing,” he says. “For me I see a great need to identify the cancer (Monsanto and Nestlé) and attack with full force and mirror back this so-called Black Magic they are doing to all of us.”
For Leyba, “good art” can be both a psychological and emotional motivator. “I want the things that are killing people and the environment to die (Monsanto- Nestlé). I wish them death.”
Leyba points to Monsanto’s genetically modified foods and herbicides and Nestlé’s recent bad press over water theft in California, and the company's links to child slavery in manufacturing its chocolate products. He says it is “a form of justice to project disdain and destruction on those that purposely destroy other people and the environment.”
And despite the growing demand for labeling GMO foods in the U.S. and more corporate transparency, Leyba says the corporations still get so much handed to them in the way of tax credits, subsidies, and corporate personhood.
“Multinational corporations have more rights than individuals,” he says, “and now with trade laws they have more rights than countries. My art forces the dialogue and creates the new language in opposition to corporations that believe in and act only on profits and losses. They are above and beyond the law. Except maybe the laws of nature.”
“Many may not believe in curses but many curses do work,” Leyba says, explaining that while death curses are not common in today’s world, from numerous Indigenous perspectives, they not only work, but are necessary.
Does he think the corporations can be forces for good? While Leyba did get the attention of Monsanto (he points to a Facebook thread where a company representative responded), he is doubtful that corporations, specifically the two he’s death-cursed, will be capable of making the type of transformation desperately needed.
“What is needed,” he says, “is for people to create the new symbols for change and not let corporations control the narrative.”
Despite the dark nature of Leyba’s work, he’s hopeful, too, “It’s wonderful how well the organic movement has spread,” and he says consumers can do their best to boycott these brands. “It's hard with Monsanto because it is in everything. Nestlé has so many products but they can be identified. Corporations will adapt to the economic climate. I feel if more people were proactive in not buying the products, the big Goliath will have to adapt or perish.”
As for his art, Leyba says it has turned many people into creative activists. “It forces the conversation we all need to be having about fascist Trans-national corporations that decide what we eat and how we think about the world.” Leyba says the world "is tired of big business ruling their lives, bodies, and environment."
“I encourage everyone to Death Curse Monsanto and Nestlé. Justifiable Death Curses are effective on many levels, fun, cathartic," and says Leyba, "completely legal.”
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All images courtesy of Leyba